Donors encouraged to focus on student outcomes

'Targeted giving is a powerful lever for change in higher education,' advisors say
By: | November 11, 2020
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In an economic upheaval, an influential philanthropy guide encourages donors to strongly consider directing gifts towards college programs that boost student outcomes and prepare graduates for careers.

With this approach, donors can avoid having their gifts placed in a general fund, where they have less control over its impact, according to the third edition of the “Intelligent Donor’s Guide to College Giving” from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni.

“Targeted giving is a powerful lever for change in higher education, generating innovative new programs on campus,” said Emily Koons Jae, director of the Council’s Fund for Academic Renewal. “Through restricted gifts, alumni have the opportunity to share not only their financial resources but also their vision and values.”

The guide notes that, according to U.S. Trustdonors gave $47 billion to higher education during the 2017–2018 academic year, but only 42% of philanthropists “believe their giving is having the impact they intended.”


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The guide encourages donors to think beyond their alma maters if those institutions are large and well-endowed. It also suggests that donors focused on expanding access to higher ed consider giving to a community college.

The report also counsels donors that their gifts may have a bigger impact if the funds create a new program or suport a research project.

The guide also recommends that donors:

  • Get input from trusted professionals: Donors are advised to talk to organizations that share values and understand the higher ed environment.
  • Reach a clear, well-crafted gift agreement: This document should articulate a donor’s intent and vision for the gift while respecting academic freedom.
  • Plan to monitor and enforce the terms of the gift: Donors can track whether institutions are following the terms of the gift. This can include providing the donor with an annual report.